As a teenager, I was told repeatedly by adults around me that chess was a waste of time. Even worse, it was a guarantee of poverty.
Wilhelm Steinitz, the Austrian world champion (1886-1894) died penniless. I have the fame, he said, but “Where’s the money?”
Sammy Reshevshky, one of the strongest players of the 20th century, was a full-time accountant, only occasionally sallying out to play in a major tournament. Supporting a wife, three children and himself, it was a sacrifice he willingly but begrudgingly made.
In the beginning, Bobby Fischer often played for paltry amounts despite a charismatic presence which enhanced any event he played in.
Gradually the tournament prizes and appearance fees he received rose to a more reasonable level. His method was simple. Pay him what he asked or he would withdraw his services.
It was for this reason, and an insistence on professional playing conditions that his rival and friend Boris Spassky called him the game’s “Number 1 trade unionist.”
More than four decades later, the penurious 64-squared wasteland of career and aspiration no longer exists.
According to the blog of Natalia Pogonina – a top women’s player – three players in the world each make more than $1 million per year. The top 10 each earn more than $200,000 and the top 50 more than $100,000.
A huge improvement over Fischer’s time, but light years behind the remuneration for today’s tennis, soccer and golf elites.
Below is a win by Wei Yi against David Navara from the Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands .